First Felines: The Presidents and their Pet Cats
Nearly every presidential administration has welcomed at least one pet to Washington. In fact, most first families have counted several animals among their ranks. Beyond the expected four-legged friends, pets ranging from grizzly bears, roosters, sheep, and an alligator have all called the White House home.
Avid hunter and outdoorsman Theodore Roosevelt kept more pets than any president before or since — more than 20. While the number and variety of Roosevelt’s pets make him a bit of an outlier, an affection for animals is most definitely a presidential quality. Prior to the Trump presidency, James K. Polk (who served from 1845 to 1849) was the last chief executive to occupy a completely pet-free White House.
Famous First Felines
When it comes to presidential pets, dogs tend to lead the pack. Fala Roosevelt, Barney Bush, and Bo Obama are just a few of the White House pups who have reached a paw across the aisle and united pet lovers from both parties. Presidential history has its fair share of famous felines too.
Here are just a few of the country’s former “First Cats:”
Tabby and Dixie Lincoln
Lincoln left his beloved mutt Fido at home in Illinois when he took the oath of office, but he kept numerous other pets with him in Washington. Among these were some of the very first White House cats. Secretary of State William Seward (who negotiated the purchase of Alaska) gifted his boss with Tabby and Dixie. Honest Abe was a big fan of felines and fed both of his cats from the dinner table.
Besides presidential historians, few Americans today can recall many details about the nation’s 19th commander-in-chief, Rutherford B. Hayes. Feline enthusiasts should note, however, that Hayes accepted one of the nation’s first Siamese cats as a gift from a Bangkok-based diplomat. Fittingly named Siam, the cat was known to wander the White House halls and amuse guests.
A lifelong cat lover, “Silent Cal” kept several pet felines during his time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Tiger, a grey, striped American Shorthair, was probably Coolidge’s favorite, often accompanying the president on walks around the White House grounds. During Coolidge’s tenure, Tiger unexpectedly wandered away from home. Coolidge took to the radio waves for help and managed to locate his beloved pet.
Tom Kitten Kennedy
The Kennedys appreciate pets nearly as much as Teddy Roosevelt. Tom Kitten technically belonged to the president’s daughter, Carolyn, and JFK tended to keep his distance. That’s not because of any ill will towards cats — President Kennedy was allergic.
Perhaps the most famous presidential feline, Socks (who passed away in 2009 at age 19) even has his own Wikipedia page. Adopted when Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas, the black-and-white cat was a media favorite and the subject of a children’s book by First Lady Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately, Socks did not get along with Buddy, the Labrador Retriever who joined the first family in 1997.